December Dilemma: Year-End Rewards

Back in the working days of yore during the industrial era, employers often gifted a ham or turkey to each of their employees at the end of the holiday season. It was considered a standard “Christmas” bonus – a way to thank the employees and their families.  In fact, I remember receiving a turkey when I worked in a restaurant during college.  My mother was thrilled.  Personally, I could have used cash to put gas in my car.   

If you want to do something for your staff this December, keep in mind the ideal bonus expresses gratitude, so make it meaningful and appropriate for your particular workforce. While you'll never be able to please everyone, know your workforce and what they value. Cash alone could be welcomed, but some practical suggestions in lieu of or in addition to cash could be:

  • Gift cards – one employer gave employees gift cards to a local grocery chain. Other examples could be movie tickets, gas cards, or Amazon/American Express gift cards which can be used to purchase a large variety of items.
  • Time off – one employer gave employees an afternoon off for holiday shopping, to take care of other holiday related errands, or to spend however they wish if they don’t celebrate any year-end holidays.

Don’t be afraid to get creative, but it you do, consider varying the nature of the bonus from year to year to keep an element of surprise for the employees. For example, one year give movie tickets, the next a grocery card. This helps you avoid setting a precedent or expectations, especially if cash is involved.

Don’t overlook some of the pitfalls of year-end rewards – this is where knowing your staff is priceless.  Give careful thought to what you do in order to avoid unintended consequences. For example:

  • Don’t forget about employees in remote locations.  The employer mentioned above who gave the gift cards to a local grocery chain failed to do anything for employees working in other locations. It created a great deal of ill-will which could have been avoided. 
  • Be careful with tangible gifts – people have different tastes and at the year-end holiday season, they could be overwhelmed with an abundance of stuff.
  • Don’t give the bonus any holiday label – stress that it’s a year-end bonus. This works especially well if the end of the fiscal year coincides with the end of the calendar year. 

Year-end bonuses can be a powerful way to boost morale and strengthen employee engagement. Let employees know that you are providing this “2018 year-end bonus” because we want our employees to share in the organization’s success. And if you can, let them go home early!

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